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Saturday, March 17

Real Life Diagnostics: Does This Flash Fiction Tale Grab You?

Critique By Maria D'Marco

Real Life Diagnostics is a weekly column that studies a snippet of a work in progress for specific issues. Readers are encouraged to send in work with questions, and we diagnose it on the site. It’s part critique, part example, and designed to help the submitter as well as anyone else having a similar problem.


If you're interested in submitting to Real Life Diagnostics, please check out these guidelines
 
Submissions currently in the queue: Four


Please Note: As of today, RLD slots are booked through April 14.

This week’s questions:

Was the opening paragraph a good hook? Are there any show/tell issues in the first person POV? Is there really conflict here or is it an improved character study?


Market/Genre: Flash fiction, fantasy noir

On to the diagnosis…

Original text:

Pink Eye


One morning, I was opening up my chicken store, when a fairy walks in. I could tell right away that she was addicted to chicken livers from her pink eye. You see, fairies get high on chicken livers and the iron turns their eyes pink. The really addicted fairies sprinkle turmeric on the livers. God only knows what turmeric does to them.

So this fairy sticks an Orc paw with six long dirty claws in my face and says, "gimme all your chicken livers."

Now I'm thinking, whadda I do? Chicken livers ain't worth fighting over but it's illegal to give any to fairies. A stupid law, cause it's legal to sell chicken livers to humans so how can you stop fairies from getting some?

I reach in the glass display under the counter and take out a large bowl. Well, the fairy sees the livers and goes wild. Her pink eyes double in size and she start shaking. she grabs a handful of the raw livers and gulps 'em down. I see this as my moment. I grab the Orc Paw from her and hit her on her head with it. The claws penetrated her head. She looks at me in surprise and drops to the ground.

Now I've gone and done it. I've killed her. I got to get rid of the body. I can dump her in the Park. She will be just another dead junkie. I pull the fairy into my backroom. I go over to the supermarket and get a shopping cart. I put her in and cover her with an apron.

Going down the block, a moaning comes out of the cart. I slap the apron hard and the moaning stops.

I hear a guy call out, "Hey you, STOP!" Oh my God, they caught me. I am going to be arrested.

A man comes over. "I know that sound." He lifts up the apron, "That's what I thought. I will buy her from you," and he makes an offer.

I lean on the cart to hold me up. He shakes me, "Did you hear me?"

I look at him. I recognize him, one of the local recreational pharmacopeia dealers. He wants her fairy blood. Street rumor says that making Blue calls for a live fairy, body and all, to be crushed to extract their blood. The pain causes their bodies to release special hormones into their blood. Mix fairy blood with garlic in butter sauce and it turns blue. Humans who take Blue can read minds but the downside is that Blue turns your mind into mush.

I mumble out a larger quote.

He laugh and says, "Mercenary fella aren't you," and he counter offers. The temptation is too much. I make a deal to sell the fairy to him.

I pay off the mortgage on my house, the loans I got to start my chicken business, and I still have some left over.

My Thoughts in Purple:

Pink Eye

One morning, I was opening up my chicken store, when a fairy walks in. I could tell right away that she was addicted to chicken livers from her pink eyes. You see, fairies get high on chicken livers and the iron turns their eyes pink. The really addicted fairies sprinkle turmeric on the livers. God only knows what turmeric does to them [I would use this space to show the MC’s reaction – is he in danger, afraid, irritated?].

So, this fairy sticks an Orc paw with six long dirty claws in my face and says, "Gimme all your chicken livers."

Now I'm thinking, whadda I do? Chicken livers ain't worth fighting over, but it's illegal to give any to fairies. A stupid law, cause it's legal to sell chicken livers to humans so how can you stop fairies from getting some? [There is a conclusion/assumption here about humans and fairies based on knowledge the reader doesn’t have and so must create their own idea for the assumption (maybe addicted fairies regularly attack humans for livers?) - I also wonder now who/what the shop owner is…]

I reach in the glass display under the counter [this is a bit confusing and might conflict with expectations about shop counters and displays] and take out a large bowl. Well, the fairy sees the livers [are they in the large bowl?] and goes wild. Her pink eyes double in size [being a fairy, does this mean they actually grew larger, like in a cartoon?] and she starts shaking. She grabs a handful of the raw livers and gulps 'em down.

I see this as my moment. I grab the Orc Paw from her and hit her on her head with it. The claws penetrated [need present tense here] her head. She looks at me in surprise and drops to the ground.

Now I've gone and done it. I've killed her. I got to get rid of the body. I can dump her in the Park. She will be just another dead junkie. I pull the fairy into my backroom. I go over to the supermarket and get a shopping cart. [this is odd, but maybe in this world shopping carts can just be taken, for whatever use] I put her in and cover her with an apron. [here the reader is forced to assume the fairy is small enough to dump into a shopping cart, as well as small enough for an apron to cover her dead body]

Going down the block, [you could consider reinforcing where he’s going, as in: Headed to the park] a moaning comes out of the cart. I slap the apron hard and the moaning stops.

I hear a guy call out, "Hey you, STOP!" Oh my God, they caught me. I am going to be arrested.

A man comes over. "I know that sound." He lifts up the apron, "That's what I thought. I will buy her from you." And he makes an offer.

I lean on the cart to hold me up. [Why does he need to lean on the cart? Is the offer making his knees sag?]

He shakes me. "Did you hear me?"

I look at him. I recognize him, one of the local recreational pharmacopeia dealers. He wants her fairy blood. Street rumor says that making Blue calls for a live fairy, body and all, to be crushed [I envisioned a car crusher here] to extract their blood. The pain causes their bodies to release special hormones into their blood. Mix fairy blood with garlic in butter sauce and it turns blue. Humans who take Blue [wondering again why MC says ‘humans’ not ‘people’ or ‘men’ and who he is – plus what the world is that this story takes place in, with humans, fairies and orcs] can read minds but the downside is that Blue turns your mind into mush.

I mumble out a larger quote.

He laughs [need plural here] and says, "Mercenary fella, aren't you?" and he counter offers.

The temptation is too much. I make a deal to sell the fairy to him.

I pay off the mortgage on my house, the loans I got to start my chicken business, and I still have some left over.

The questions:

1. Was the opening paragraph a good hook?

Not really [readers chime in here].

It shows some possible humor, and presents some questions, like why are fairies hooked on chicken livers? But, there is nothing to show that the MC is about to be attacked. Since this is flash fiction, I suggest using the word count in the last two sentences of the opening paragraph to show the MC’s reaction to the fairy. Does he know he’s in danger?

The line following the first paragraph immediately let’s the reader know what is going on – armed fairy robbery – and inserts the idea of orcs in this world from her weapon of choice. It is the thing that prompts the reader forward.

A couple of mentions:

The first paragraph shows the MC as someone who has average intellect, yet as the story progresses, he seems to sink deeper into more rural, less refined thinking, speaking and internal thought. That was confusing.

The layout of the counter/glass display is confusing. You could gain page space by shortening the counter/get bowl movement and use that space to indicate that the MC has a ‘plan’ to distract and whack the fairy.

Fairies getting high on chicken livers is a comical premise that gives this story a reason to happen where and how it does.

The ‘law’ about not giving livers to fairies, but that they will wind up getting them from humans is incomplete. Again, it has a comic feel, but the premise isn’t explained, so the reader is left out.

Another comic undertone is after the horror of extracting fairy blood, it is then mixed with garlic in butter sauce.

Overall, I admit I had to read this story – slowly – 3 times to feel I had made a connection with it. Some of the leaps necessary demanded that I simply accept the story at face value. It boiled down to the MC (whatever he is) seeing the addicted fairy as an expendable creature, who might as well be dead, so why not benefit from her death and stabilize his life?

(Here's more on hooking your reader)

2. Are there any show/tell issues in the first person POV?

Not that jumped out at me [readers chime in please].

(Here's more on what you need to know about show, don't tell)

3. Is there really conflict here or is it an improved character study?

There is conflict to varying degrees, but the most telling is the decision to sell the fairy to someone who will deliver to it an agonizing death, just so humans can use a drug made from her blood and garlic in butter sauce.

The question for the MC seems not to be what is moral or immoral about the transaction, but what is it worth to him?

We are shown the breakdown of his character and values by the line: “The temptation is too much.” But – the temptation isn’t defined, which I would suggest doing, so it’s clear that money is the trigger and turning point for him.

The perfunctory ending, which delineates what he accomplished from the ‘deal’, seems to then render his life as just a financial accounting, which might underscore the idea of ‘what would it take to give yourself a blank slate? Who or what could become a commodity?

As far as a character study, we have an MC with unknown values who owns a chicken store. We don’t even know if he sells chickens or chicken meats or chicken feet for voodoo, or all the above. He is confronted with danger, uses violence, clearly doesn’t consider the near-dead fairy his equal, as he prepares to simply dump her in the park. He is afraid of being found out. He sees the offer by the drug dealer as the solution to two problems: dealing with her body and clearing all his debts. Is he a better man for his decision? Has he grown or changed or gained higher values or morals? Is there any excuse for him ultimately being a murderer, and profiting off the death of another living being?

All this is shown, but what does it mean? What is the ‘moral of the story’?

(Here's more on creating conflict in a story)

I appreciate the efforts of this author and of all Janice’s readers who chime in to add their thoughts and impressions. Thank you!

Thanks to our brave volunteer for submitting this for me to play with. I hope they–and others–find it helpful. I don’t do a full critique on these, (just as it pertains to the questions) and I encourage you to comment and make suggestions of your own. Just remember that these pieces are works in progress (many by new writers), not polished drafts, so be nice and offer constructive feedback.

About the Critiquer

Maria D’Marco is an editor with 20+ years experience. She specializes in developmental editing, and loves the process of wading through the raw, passionate words of a first draft. Currently based in Kansas City, she flirts with the idea of going mobile, pursuing her own writing and love of photography, while maintaining her fulfilling work with authors.

Website | Twitter

4 comments:

  1. I love this writer's refreshing voice. I would read on, intrigued by the unique premise.

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  2. This wants to be crazily fun and original--and it is. It's an almost perfect story for what it's trying to do. Maria's notes give a few ways to refine it ("a fairie tries to rob me with an orc paw" would be a delicious thing to see in the first line) but it absolutely works as it is...

    Until the end. We've thought of the narrator as a victim and a working everyman (or everygoblin, or whatever he is), tough enough to deal with a nasty business but basically likable. And then when the fairy's still alive, he casually sells a sapient being to a "crusher" to pay his debts. ????

    A serious story might have a character suddenly revealed as a casual killer, and build the story around how the reader has to suddenly cope with that revelation. I don't think this story wants to get that dark that fast. So I'd suggest either:

    The fairy doesn't start moaning in the cart, she's already dead. You might add a bit more suspense about other chances of getting caught, to intensify the moments before the offer. That way the offer is a logical lucky break for someone in his kind of black-market world... but it's not murder.

    Or, the fairy won't be killed. The offer could be to send her to some kind of punishing place alive; "milked for her fairy dust" is one thought, or maybe forced to help raise chickens and only occasionally getting a taste of chicken liver. That's hard to set up because it's still selling her into slavery, so you'd have to find a fate that was painful enough to be funny but not too hideous, and probably do more earlier to show the fairy sort of deserved it. Or it could be that the fairy's robbed other people or done other crimes, and the narrator's giving them to those victims to work off her debts or face some punishment (short of lynching); that would have a built-in sense of rough justice.

    This is shockingly fun story. If it can keep its sense of whimsy from asking us to accept too much from our narrator, this world would be... well, addictive.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ken...you always give me one more perspective. I enjoyed the obtuse dark humor of this piece and this author almost made most of it work. It's a tough thing to do...humor, that is.

      I didn't mind the ending being stark, as maybe in his world, it's not creepy to sell a near-dead fairy. I was more concerned with knowing what his temptation truly was...since it seemed his only hesitation was concerning the amount of the dealer's offer.

      The ending is almost nondescript, because it suddenly lost the author's voice and went full flat, which made me aware of the author instead of the story. The disassociation from the odd world that had been created was disappointing and mundane. I didn't want petty--I wanted more puzzle pieces! :o)

      A Monty Python scene comes to mind...where the outrageously filthy guy rings a bell while pulling a cart full of dead bodies, and repeatedly shouts: Bring out yer dead! Bring out yer Dead! It's so grotesque, but the absurdity of death becoming mundane is darkly hilarious.

      It is a fun story...and sticks with you.

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  3. This is so exciting.

    What a basic mistake, I did not tell readers about the MC. I have more areas to work on than I suspected. I am going to spend the next month re-reading Janet's books

    Thank you Maria for taking the time to review my story. Thank you also to the folks who commented.

    Best wishes to all.

    ReplyDelete